Samantha Garvey, Roving Editor Ω
Mohamed Abdel Rehim is a 6’8” WolfPack volleyball player, a Muslim student from Egypt and has experienced a national revolution first-hand.
He has stood with five fellow TRU squad members opposing another Canadian university volleyball team and with one million fellow citizens opposing corrupt leader of 30 years.
He is working towards his bachelor of science and shares with millions TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year of 2011: The Protester.
He comes from halfway around the world, a country of rich history and rough political transition.
Rehim arrived at TRU in September 2011, choosing the school over scholarship opportunities in California and Calgary. He said head coach Pat Hennelly was quick to recruit him and has been supportive all along. Volleyball has always been a skill. Even his younger brother plays professionally in hometown Cairo.
Transitioning to Canada has had its good and bad aspects, Kamloops falling short of the liveliness to be found in Egypt’s capital city.
“[Kamloops] is the place I want to go to escape the 30 million people outside my door in Cairo,” Rehim said, but added that the pictures of campus online didn’t show any snow or ice.
Now beginning his second year of study and second season with TRU Athletics, Rehim has three on-campus classes, one co-op course, one online-learning course, a part-time job, one or two practices every day and two games nearly every weekend from October to February.
“If you saw my schedule, you would cry,” he said.
A revolution first-hand
Mobilizing a nation and uniting all citizens in a country of nearly 90 million people happened in large part because of social networking.
Only a year and a half ago, it was through Facebook and Twitter that the first protest was orchestrated.
On Jan. 25, 2011, formerly an annual holiday commemorating the police force in Egypt, Tahrir Square in the centre of the city filled with protesters, signs, slogans and demands. At the top of the list was the resignation of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak took presidency in 1981 when President Anwar Sadat, sitting right next to him, was assassinated during a Cairo parade. When Mubarak moved from vice president to the top job, he declared a state-of-emergency, which allowed authorities to search, question and detain people without cause and it remained in place for the length of his rule.
“He stole our rights for 30 years,” Rehim said.
It was three days later, on Jan. 28, 2011, then called Day of Rage and now referred to as the Day of Revolution, that the streets of Cairo and other cities around the nation, filled with protesters, in every direction all headed to Tahrir Square, all with a purpose, a mission and without any intention of failure or doubt.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to move with them,’” Rehim said. “It was the first time for me to take action.”
On that morning, Rehim heard commotion outside his home and he went to join the masses. The sight was hard to comprehend.
“I’ve seen the most number of people I’ve ever seen in my life.”
In all likelihood, it was more people than anyone will ever see in their lifetime.
Rehim was still a two to three hour walk away from his destination, but as the streets began to converge the people were packed tighter.
“These people, it’s Egypt going out from their buildings,” he said.
The number of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square numbered more than a million people, according to Al Jazeera.
No matter where the people came from, what they did for work, their age, gender, religion or status, Egyptians achieved equality that day. In that aspect, one demand was already achieved against an oppressive regime that the people no longer recognized as legitimate.
“That’s where I felt at this point in Tahrir Square everyone is welcome. We are making the change right now,” Rehim said.
But he never made it to the square on that first voyage. Tear bombs deployed by Egyptian police took over his lungs, forcing him and many other protesters to return home. But he was lucky. He wasn’t shot with a rubber bullet — or a real one.
Eighteen days after the initial conflict in the streets, Hosni Mubarak resigned. The announcement made by newly appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman caused an eruption of celebration in Tahrir Square, once again completely packed.
The celebration lasted all night.
On Feb. 1, 2011, ten days before Mubarak’s resignation, the army released a statement that they would not fire on peaceful protests.
Rehim said it is because the military chose the people over the president that Egypt did not match the timeframe, violence or death tolls of Libya or Syria.
A report released by the Arab Network for Human Rights, estimated 841 people in total had been killed during the revolution, not including 26 Egyptian police force members.
Hosni Mubarak faced trial for failing to halt the killing of protesters. On June 2, 2012, he avoided the death penalty. Now an 84-year-old inmate with failing health, he is serving life in prison. Minister of the interior Habib Adli also received a life sentence but Mubarak’s two sons and six other officials were acquitted.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” Rehim said. After power was handed over to the Armed Forces, unrest and dissatisfaction infected the country. Riots, protests and demonstrations continued in several cities. At its height, the violence took the lives of nearly 80 people at a soccer game in Port Said on Feb. 1, 2012.
“What’s going to happen eventually… maybe five [years], the whole Middle East will be belong to the people,” Rehim said. “I’m optimistic about this, but it needs time.”
Hisham Qasim, a newspaper publisher and prominent human rights activist in Egypt, agreed.
“Starting five years [from now], when you’ve began to build the instruments of good government, democracy and proper judiciary parliament, establish civilian rule, the military will have to give up their privilege,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
On June 16 and 17, 2012, Egypt held its first legitimate democratic election and with 51.73 per cent of the popular vote, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood became the country’s leader.
The brotherhood’s most frequently used slogan, according to BBC, “Islam is the solution,” is cause for concern among non-Muslims in the country (although Morsi has announced the official slogan has been developed into “Renaissance Project” for practical purposes).
Archbishop Anba Pachomius, acting Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has criticized the new president for expanding the number of portfolios in government while keeping Christian representation low, according to local newspaper Al-Shorouk.
From the brotherhood’s perspective, it’s a story of perseverance and patience leading to ultimate success. The Ikhwan (the Arabic translation of Muslim Brotherhood) was established in 1928 and has long reported support from the people. It was banned from running in elections in 1954 after being blamed for an assassination attempt on then Prime Minister Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser. Mubarak allowed candidates from the party again in the 1980s, but scattered throughout elections of the next three decades were boycotts from the party in protest.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mubarak thwarted the political efforts of the Ikhwan with arrests of the candidates and restricted voting in areas of strong support.
In 2011, the ministry of the interior issued a statement blaming the Ikhwan for encouraging the beginnings of the revolution.
Many see today’s situation in Egypt as Morsi against the Armed Forces.
According to Al Jazeera, Morsi sacked seven top members of the military and rearranged the constitution to give himself much of the legislative and executive power that once belonged to the military.
Rehim pointed out that the media in Egypt has been no friend to Morsi. Between the state-owned media and the private outlets, many formed post-Mubarak, much coverage has been accused of being in favour of the military over Morsi, according to Al Jazeera.
“[Some] people think, ‘He’s going to make women wear the veil, he’s going to stop alcohol, he’s going to make no beaches, no swimming,’” Rehim said, adding none of those things have come to be.
“The thing is, [the same people] they are in control of our media still.”
Innocence of Muslims
Threatening the development of peace and equality in Egypt is the video Innocence of Muslims, not only depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is against Islamic principles, but also showing him as a fraud and a womanizer.
Egypt has issued warrants for eight people reportedly responsible for the film, seven Egyptian-American Coptic Christians and Florida pastor Terry Jones.
Coptic Christianity in Egypt comprises 10 per cent of the population, the largest religious minority. Clashes and violence have been reported between this group and Muslims in Egypt for years, well before the revolution.
Last month, reports circulated about nine Christian families leaving their homes in the Sinai Peninsula after receiving death threats, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, but different accounts varied of whether families left voluntarily or left at all.
Egypt has reported more than 200 injuries through this most recent wave of riots, where the United States Embassy walls were scaled and the American flag was torn down.
Rehim condemned the violence.
“I, myself, and probably my family are opposing the idea of attacking or protesting in front of the American Embassy or trying to break into it or burn it.”
Coptic Christians in the United States and Egypt, as well as Muslims, have all publicly condemned the Innocence of Muslims video as well as the resulting violence.
“The Egyptian people, both Muslims and Christians, refuse such insults on sanctities,” was Morsi’s public statement.
“I don’t care if you’re Shia (Muslim), Sunni (Muslim), Christian, Jewish, Atheist— we are all equal,” Rehim said.
Much like in the first moments he entered Tahrir Square, Jan. 28, 2011, with no importance on background, religion, job or status, “… we are all equal.”